From rodeo to wheelchair tennis

By Djamila Grossman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A UA freshman won three U.S. Open titles in wheelchair tennis last week, a remarkable feat coaches and teammates said is unusual for an athlete who has only had three years of tennis training.

Jaclyn Cimino, an undeclared freshman, won the Women's A division, the Junior Open Girl and the Women A double in the tournament.

"I knew there were a lot of competitive people out there," Cimino said. "But when I got there and I started playing, I felt really confident."

Cimino, 18, had to use a wheelchair after a high school rodeo accident in 2002. Although she was unable to pursue a career in bull riding, she said, tennis gave her the ability to compete at a high level and focus on a career as a professional athlete.

"It definitely was a really good thing for me because it was an athletic outlet that I didn't think was possible. I was really nervous that after the accident I would not be able to find something that I could love to do and compete at," Cimino said.

Cimino said she wants tennis to be her future career, and she would like to be on the U.S. team one day and to play the Women's Open, the highest category of the U.S. Open. Her training now involves practices four days a week from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. and additional workouts during the day.

Teammate Bryan Barten, a consultant at the Disability Resource Center, said he thinks Cimino is on her way to becoming a world-class player.

"I see her winning many titles in the future. She is going to be one of the top players of the country," said Barten, who is currently ranked No. 7 in the world in the U.S. national team. "I could see her going a long way and she's come a long way in a short period of time."

While the team knew that Cimino was a good player when she came to Tucson in August, Barten said, he didn't expect her to be as good as she was at the U.S. Open.

But in addition to her skill, Barten said, he is impressed with her overall character.

"(Cimino is) an excellent student, a dedicated athlete and a very nice person," Barten said. "As a teammate she's very supportive. She's not all into herself and very humble."

The UA is one of the few schools in the country that offer a competitive adaptive athletics program, which was the reason Cimino came here, she said.

"I think the UA has done such an awesome job. They created this place where we really can compete at a high level," Cimino said. "It's so nice to be here."

Her coach, Michael Cottingham, who invited her to join the program, said Cimino is an unusual athlete.

While most freshmen are insecure when they first start or are discouraged by his critique, Cimino was different because she came in "with full guns waiting" and ready to commit to the program, he said.

Cottingham said he has never trained anyone on the team who rose up to Cimino's level within three years of playing tennis.

"I know with commitment and her work ethic she can get really, really far," Cottingham said. "At 18 to be a Women's Open player is a great thing. We're really glad to have her on the team."

In the future she wants to continue fighting for titles, Camino said, with a smile that never seemed to leave her face.

"I think everything happens for a reason and you just kind of make the best of it, and tennis has given me so many opportunities. I feel really great about where I am right now," Cimino said. "I would never have seen myself competing at the U.S. Open, but I still have a long way to go and it just makes me more excited for things to come and working hard for next year."